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Primitive Attributes

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The primitive hut has been a standard of architectural theory since Vitruvius.

V said this primitive hut was found in places with lots of timber
and he said this type of primitive hut was found in places with less timber

He concluded that the different forms resulted from people using what they had available to use, rather than because they wanted to build things having those particular shapes. Perhaps he was the first misfit? – after all, this is how we here at misfits think things should be. Or perhas he was the first critical regionalist? Unfortunately for architecture, he’s remembered not for his thoughts but the fact he had thoughts about architecture. Vitruvius, it seems, has been a standard of architectural theory since the time of Vitruvius. The term primitive hut has become a byword for thinking about buildings, or showing you are thinking about buildings. This is a problem – I blame the French!

Marc-Antoine (Abbe) Laugier brought the idea [of the primitive hut back] to life with an image of the hut for the second edition of his Essay on Architecture (1755). It was considered to be an ideal principle for architecture or any structure at the time. Laugier believed it was the standard form which all architecture embodied. (you know where)

wikimedia commons

How many times have we seen this image? And what’s it supposed to mean anyway? A young woman in loose-fitting clothes is leaning on some classical ruins and pointing in one direction while stupid cherub looks in another, and the eponymous primitive hut lies in a third. One thing is sure – it captured the imagination of The French. They do like the idea of The Primitive.


Paul Gauguin, Black Pigs [with primitive huts], 1891 (

Henri Rousseau.

Henri Rosseau, Negro Attacked by a Jaguar, 1910 (wikipaintings,org)

Josephine Baker.

Le Corbusier.

The premise of this post is that certain ideas have an enduring fascination not because they are meaningful, but because they are meaningempty – they can be used to make whatever point someone wants them to make, mean whatever someone wants them to mean.

For example, here’s a photo from an exhibition that explored what primitive hut “really” means FYI.

Primitive Hut explores how humans interact with, and interpret nature in fundamental and sometimes “primitive” ways – guided by desires for comfort and pleasure, and/or striving for an understanding of the natural world.

Thanks whitesagestudio – sorry I missed it!

Here’s a review of a whole book about the idea of the primitive hut. iQuote:

“Rykwert further notes that the search for the hut is a search for not what has been lost but for what cannot but be lost. The hut is not the memory of a object but of a state of mind or consciousness, adduced not by archaeology but by identifying “ceremonies and rituals by people some still call primitive.”

Now this just suddenly got a lot deeper. We’re no longer looking for what we’ve lost but looking for something that we were bound to lose sooner or later. I’m tempted to say “just get over it and move on!” But before I move on, and in the interests of keeping it real, I must show you this image of some contemporary, yet primitive, huts. People live in them and, on the whole, are probably no more or less happy than people living in anything else.

But this is not about them. This is about us having fun with words and meanings. For us, primitive hut carries a lot of baggage. Whether or not primitive hut is a good thing we had once, a good thing we could not help but lose, the yearning for either or both of those, or merely represents any or all of these, the term has become a convenient way of using the mighty weight of architectural history to add some credibility to your argument in much the same way as does using the words “Firmness, Commoditie, and Delight”, or invoking the name of Alberti. Basically, it shows you’re a bit of a thinker too.

Here’s a modern primitive hut.

This one looks a bit cool, has some funky stuff on the roof and rainwater harvesting. The logs are a cute touch. I can’t help feeling there’s a touch of techno-fetish about it but, let’s face it, it’s a welcome break from organi-fetish. This primitive hut is about marketing the USPs of its architect. “Contemporary yet working with the fundamental bits of Architecture and with full knowledge of The Weight of History”.  It’s #1 of three.

#2 is self-conscious magazine filler. Cute logs have been replaced by adjustable stabilisers, extendable ramp improves upon what could easily be done by a rock, and a symbolic primitivism (as opposed to a minimally useful one) becomes roof ornament.

#3 is Peterschule for lumberjacks.

Here’s another modern primitive hut.

“The Primitive Hut for the 21st Century aims to combine the essential elements of shelter—earth, the hearth, framework, roof structure—with the expediency of digital technology. The lightweight, enclosing membrane enables the building to respond automatically to climate changes and to allow its occupants to program the internal environment of the building.”

“The Primitive Hut for the 21st Century” eh? The building of buildings to indicate the possession of land is rather a primitive instinct but I get the feeling that Sean Godsell Architects aren’t really getting the whole “primitive” thing.

Using thatch in reference to vernacular english architecture, this low-tech cabin explores notions of the primitive hut and organic forms of shelter. the ‘eye’ of the cabin resembles the overhanging eaves of a traditional thatched roof. from above, timed canisters would release an oozing liquid that gradually envelops this womb-like structure and transforms it into an emphatically modern ‘white cube’

Thanks for that Triptyque, designboom. (Nice staircase – but a primitive ladder might better keep the beasties out!)

“domesticity seems out of place in the dramatic context of the site. Viewing the community as an outpost casts al the visitors as dentures, as explores or at least guests in this territory, and even the owners can feel this each time they visit.”

Wes Jones came good in the end, sort of. He’s a little more restrained here and there’s a sense of using an economy of means to achieve something. There’s still the inescapable claiming of land – not only in the primitive tribal sense, but also the American pioneering sense that Thoreau tried to mimic in his own hut at Walden (where his mate Emerson’s picturesque backyard substituted for the wilderness he imagined).

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)
“The truth can be intuitively experienced directly from nature.”

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.”

Thoreau’s hut was simple and modest, rather than primitive.

reconstructed interior

Thoreau wrote of the joys of living with Nature. Just when the French were on the verge of getting excited about Primitivism, Thoreau was writing about the joys of Nature. His book, Walden, was a bestseller in the mid-1800’s – it linked to the American myth of pioneers in a beautiful country.

big, grand, 100% American Nature

Nature was on everyone’s mind. Louis Sullivan was the first to spot that “Nature” could be used to decorate and sell buildings.

“So here I stand before you preaching organic architecture: declaring organic architecture to be the modern ideal and the teaching so much needed if we are to see the whole of life, and to now serve the whole of life, holding no ‘traditions’ essential to the great TRADITION. Nor cherishing any preconceived form fixing upon us either past, present or future, but—instead—exalting the simple laws of common sense—or of super-sense if you prefer—determining form by way of the nature of materials…” (Louis Sullivan)

From there, it was just a short step to here.

and here,


Jaakko Pernu, “Ground Beneath”, Oulu 1996 – 99, photo: Markku Siekkinen





  • i wish i had a hut.
    particularly 1 that has a window so the neighbours can see how many logs you have left before you freeze